Wrestling breakdown, Part 1: Olympic champion YazdanicharatiGet the Full StoryTHOMAS SAMSON AFP via Getty Images
Highlighting the career of Iran s two-time World and one-time Olympic gold medalist Before we begin, let s appreciate some nicknames in freestyle wrestling.
The best nicknames are given to Americans by the Russians. Dave Schultz was Sly Fox , Alex Dieringer is The Lion , most recently Spencer Lee was dubbed Little Sadulaev . What an honor.
The Russians have some solid nicknames for themselves as well, like The Avar Tank Sadulaev , the All-American Killer Rashidov , God of Thunder Boltukaev .
Every now and then, Americans give solid nicknames to Russians, the best are the ones that sound like maybe a Russian thought of it. Seth Petarra has dubbed David Baev, The Young King .
Apparently Akhmed Gadzhimagomedov, who holds a win over Kyle Dake, is nicknamed Zig-Zag . I don t know who is responsible for this.
Perhaps the greatest nickname in freestyle wrestling belongs to Iranian two-time World champion Reza Yazdani - The Leopard of Juybar .
That s icy.
Our subject today is another Iranian wrestler, Hassan Yazdanicharati.
While his nickname isn t as unique as the above, it s certainly catchy - The Greatest or, Yazdani the Greatest . It s an interesting nickname, considering Hassan Yazdani is not yet even the most credentialed Iranian freestyle wrestler of all-time just yet check out guys like Abdollah Ardabili and Emam-Ali Habibi . But with two World titles and one Olympic championship already at age 25, the 86 kg force could certainly become an athlete whose legacy endures.
I ll certainly remark on Yazdani s game, but if you re looking for a truly in-depth technical breakdown, I can t recommend DPS videos enough.
The Career of Hassan Yazdanicharati
The first time Hassan Yazdani was truly on the international radar was in 2011, when he medaled at Cadet-level competitions.
After falling short and taking bronze at the Cadet Asian Championship, Yazdani battled his way to the Cadet World finals just two weeks later where he met a familiar face - Russia s Gadzhimurad Rashidov.
The basic bones of Yazdani s style were there, and his length combined with an insane gas tank and weaponized pace made him a physical threat to most age-group competitors, but the refined setups and agility of young Rashidov saw him lose most of their exchanges.
Did I mention Yazdani was comically lanky?
Ultimately, Rashidov s control from ties and crisp attacks led him to clean entries, and Yazdani s enthusastic, but less refined efforts opened him up for counters.
Continued training and growth saw Yazdani bump up from 50 kg to 66 kg in 2014, when he made another run, this time at the junior level.
At the 2014 Asian Championship he defeated the 2013 Cadet World silver medalist, Yuhi Fujinami. Fujinami had lost to none other than Aaron Pico in the World finals almost one year prior.
Yazdani and Pico met in the 2014 Junior World finals.
It was a clash between two incredibly physical competitors, but Pico was clearly more limited when his power advantage was taken away. Unable to manipulate the posture of Yazdani the way he wanted to, and with Yazdani showing no signs of slowing down, the larger process of the match got away from him quickly.
Pico wasn t able to stalk his opponent, before he peaked around 2016, Pico was heavily reliant on keeping his man defensive and on the backfoot. He s much worse when reacting, and from the outside Yazdani found outside entries on his doubles. Yazdani s length allowed him to easily collapse the legs far before he began turning the corner. When working on singles, if his opponent whizzered, Yadzani was able to either step across the back and put a boot in, or use his free hand to reach the remaining ankle and collect.
It wasn t one-way traffic, Pico charged his way into entries and got to the legs several times, but it was tremendously difficult to move the larger man around and finish clean.
Pico was too predictable. He would come forward with his hands high to bang on the head, and Yazdani could pick his spots for when he wanted to post off the hands or clear ties to get to his shot. He was a Junior World champion.
Feeling confident in his technique and physicality, Yazdani began competing at the senior level at age 20.
Hassan Yazdanicharati Wrestling Style Synopsis
At this point we re seeing a more complete version of Hassan Yazdanicharati, so let s discuss the basics of his game as a wrestler.
Iranians are known for their preference for underhooks, typically digging at least one on the lead side and driving forward with power. Even from a reductionist lens, the strength built from practicing and drilling these positions more often than others can lend a physical advantage, which is evidently consequential in freestyle. We ve seen Iranian wrestlers dig underhooks and repeatedly push out of bounds for technical falls. World bronze medalist and two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski was pushout teched by Iranian Amir Zare at the Alans in December. It s a very real threat.
To get to underhooks, methods vary, but Hassan Yazdani prefers a heavy handfight that lowers the level of his opponent. Typically the taller man, it benefits Yazdani to be able to get a window underneath his opponent, constantly working to break them down usually leads to your opponent resisting, and standing up taller. That s where the openings come off Yazdani s work, and of course there s always catching an underhook off your opponent s offense.
Now once he has the underhooks, he s pressuring. Given the power advantage that usually exists, without dedicating a significant effort to pushing back in, you re going out of bounds or being moved into a knee tap. Often, this is how it goes.
More physical and talented opponents find ways to hold their ground, usually that means planting their feet and pressuring back in. Naturally, they have to stand up a bit taller, especially because a larger man is jacking them up with the underhook. Hypothetically if his opponent wanted to refuse to give up that posture and stayed low, Yazdani could probably catch the head and do even more damage from that position with the underhook already secured. Even if they do pressure back in, you can quickly step back and use their forward momentum to snap them down out of position, as we ll see Yazdani do later.
With his opponent s feet planted and available, we often see Yazdani pressure forward and high off his lead side before dropping levels to get to the ankle. There isn t always that push-pull dynamic before these entries, it really depends on the opponent and what they re giving back. A reliable attack from the underhook with your opponent pressuring back is the underhook throw-by, a maneuver that sees you step outside, punch the underhook and catch the leg as your opponent is moved forward.
For a great underhook throw-by artist, look no further than David Baev.
Outside of these ties, his lanky frame and surprising strength in extended positions gives him a reaching double from the outside, that he can either run through or work from to hook the near leg and transition to the seatbelt. The best thing about the double is that if it fails, Yazdani can come off the leg to an underhook and stand with it. His weapons flow together.
Awareness of the double sometimes gets his opponents to lower their stance, which feeds into the snaps and handfighting, which feed back into the double or the underhooks. I wrote about a similar level-manipulator in Bo Nickal a few weeks ago.
It s a relatively simple game, but Yazdani s ability to work through shots and his physical presence makes it extremely effective. DPS can tell you a lot more, and better, but that s my basic understanding. You ll see a lot of these attacks manifest in the videos to come.
2015 - Building to Worlds
Hassan Yazdanicharati s first documented senior-level competition was the 2015 Grand Prix of Paris. The tournament usually features at least one or two big names, but depth is often lacking.
Up to 70 kg, Yazdani made his way to the finals where he defeated A Russia to Poland transfer, Magomedmurad Gadzhiev.
Gadzhiev is currently the #5 ranked wrestler at 70 kg, he had not quite hit his stride when he met Yazdani.
Next on the schedule was Iran s Takhti Cup, typically their most popular national tournament. He dominated the field, leaving now doubt who would represent Iran at the 2015 World Championship.
His first job as Iran s 70 kg wrestler was to compete at the 2015 Wrestling World Cup in Los Angeles.
In the round robin Yazdani notched a noteworthy win over a Russian competing for Azerbaijan.
In the championship finals, Iran wrestled the United States. At 70 kg, the Americans sent out two-time All-American and 2014 World Team member Nick Marable. Hot off defeating Jordan Burroughs in 2014, Marable was a force to be reckoned with.
It was a tight, 3-1 bout, but Yazdani emerged from the World Cup without a loss, giving Iran a team championship.
2015 World Wrestling Championship Las Vegas, Nevada
Undefeated since his match with Rashidov, Hassan Yazdani was a serious title contender in the eyes of most. He wrestled with confidence, smashing the bracket on his way to the finals.
1 16 Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Young Ho JUNG KOR
First up was a 2008 Military World champion from Korea, Young-ho Jung.
An overconfident underhook throw-by entry played into the upper body chops of the Korean, who capitalized to crunch down from rear standing, dragging Yazdani to the mat and rolling through for another two points on the gut wrench.
A rocky start.
But Yazdani was not ready to give up on his gameplan, running the throw-by again, this time finishing quickly by stepping across the back and putting a boot in. Jung s stocky build made this an extremely accessible option.
Once the throw-by was established, Jung was more wary of Yazdani s clinch entries, which opened up his outside shots.
The Iranian scored 14 points straight to end the match by technical fall.
1 8 Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Miroslav Stefanov KIROV BUL
2011 Junior World bronze medalist Miroslav Kirov has been hanging around the European scene for a few years now, and he s picked up a few significant medals along the way. He s found the most success medaling at the Ranking Series tournament Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov , and even earned bronze at the European continental championship in 2014.
If you re looking for a quick match that sums up Yazdani s game, this is the one.
Against Kirov, Yazdani showed how his double feeds into his underhook, his short offense off the front headlock and the handfight, as well as his underrated defense and hip positioning.
Kirov found himself underneath a flurrying Yazdani one too many times, he was cradled up and pinned.
Quarterfinal: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Davit TLASHADZE GEO
Davit Tlashadze saw a lot of action for the Republic of Georgia in these years, but he was not one of their standout wrestlers. The highlight of his career is likely the European Championship silver medal he d earn in 2016.
Yazdani was even deadlier off his snaps against Tlashadze, and he was able to work off the ankle to score, later switching off to a cradle for another pin.
Thus far, Yazdani was smashing his way through a relatively underwhelming bracket.
But the semifinals held a true test.
Semifinal: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. James Malcolm GREEN USA
New Jersey s James Green has been one of the most unheralded and underrated wrestlers in America for the past few years, likely due to some inconsistency at the international level. Domestically, he s been nearly flawless at 70 kg, making five straight World teams after graduating from Nebraska.
A double leg artist, Green would have to counter the pressure of Yazdani and deal with his heavy hands if he wanted a clean shot at his legs.
Likely having studied Yazdani, Green was prepared for the underhooks, demonstrating early he knew how to clear out and reverse position to score his own pushouts.
But Yazdani is no one-trick pony, he continued to stay heavy in the handfight and got to one of his secondary attacks from ties, the slide-by. If you re looking for a slide-by master, check out Zaurbek Sidakov.
While Yazdani had gotten to rear standing and was working on finishing, Green was savvy and stubborn, he went to the quad pod and based on his hands to prevent his knees from touching the mat.
Unfortunately, he held out a bit too long, Yazdani was able to gain enough control that he stood straight, stacked Green, then turned him over with a high grip on the legs.
Yazdani s multi-level threats and physicality wore on Green, and the Iranian was able to start working his typical underhook game to push Green around the mat.
With his significant height advantage, the knee tap off the underhook was one of his most effective weapons.
Green looked for counters and had his moments, but Yazdani s assault never slowed and he ended his commanding victory with a score of 9-4.
Final: Magomedrasul Muhtarovitch GAZIMAGOMEDOV RUS df. Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI
After that convincing, dominant run, Yazdani fell in the World finals. At the hands of a Russian, once again, to boot.
While the match was largely colored by drawn out, fatiguing scrambles, the most important theme of the match was positioning on the initial attacks.
Gazimagomedov beat Yazdani because of his stability and awareness during Yazdani s offensive flurries. When Yazdani looked to snap down and get to the ankle, Gazimagomedov had retained his base and was ready to shoot once Yazdani stood out of stance to chance the leg.
When Yazdani shot his double and looked only to stand into his underhook, Gazimagomedov found space to shoot through it as Yazdani rose.
He could hang with Yazdani physically in bursts, and he had counters picked out for all of his favorite attacks. Down early, Yazdani was forced to continue to attack with volume, leaving him even more vulnerable.
It wasn t a shutout, but Gazimagomedov controlled the entire match for the 10-3 win and a World title.
Photo by Amin Mohammad Jamali Getty Images
The Olympic Year
The freestyle cycle moves quickly, you don t have very much time to dwell on losses and play around with ideas, especially with an Olympic year at hand.
70 kg is not represented at the Olympic Games, he would have to move down to 65 kg or up to 74 kg if he wanted to compete. Given that he was growing, and fast, 74 was the move.
But it wasn t a transition without bumps.
Back at the Grand Prix of Paris in 2016, he took a loss to a European staple in Russian-turned-Belorussian Ali Shabanov.
Only a two-time World medalist at that point, Shabanov is an entirely acceptable loss early in the year, but he was exactly the type of wrestler Yazdani would have to beat, in numbers, to capture an Olympic title.
His woes did not end there.
Traveling to Europe, Yazdani worked through a talent-rich bracket at the Alexander Medved tournament in Minsk, Belarus. He picked up meaningful wins, but lost in the finals to an even more ferocious competitor in Khetik Tsabolov - a World champion.
There were still six months before the Olympics, but Yazdani likely felt urgency to jump levels. He should expect to face multiple World champions at the Games, if need be.
Four months passed without competition, as a returning World medalist Yazdani was already qualified for the Olympics, it was all about peaking and getting looks at the field.
He returned in June for the World Cup, held in in Los Angeles once again.
Iran s first dual would be against Azerbaijan, a team staffed by as many Russian transfers as natives.
Right away, Yazdani demonstrated his improvements by winning comfortably over 2011 World bronze medalist Ashraf Aliyev.
Next was a rematch against the United States, their strongest rival in the pool.
Yazdani met the young, but powerful Alex Dieringer. The Hodge Trophy winner and three-time NCAA champion was still new to senior-level freestyle, but he couldn t be taken likely.
A wrestler who favors bullying from underhooks himself, Alex Dieringer played right into Yazdani s hand by resisting the pushout and pressuring hard back in.
This is where we could see the push-pull interplay at its finest, Yazdani worked from the underhook, then pulled back and switched off to the head, chaining his positions to move the American around the mat.
Unable to stop Yazdani from controlling his positioning, Dieringer was extremely vulnerable to be set up off the underhook, or picked off with shots when retreating. It was a 10-0 technical fall.
As we know, Dieringer improved tremendously, and is doing quite well for himself these days.
His match with India was a bit of a layup, Hassan Yazdanicharati disposed of Parveen Rana in short order.
Having won their pool, Iran advanced to the finals against Russia.
Of course, he was matched with Khetik Tsabolov.
I ve never seen footage of Tsabolov s win over Yazdani, so I m unsure of what adjustments were made for him to put on such an inspired performance. Perhaps it was literally just physical growth from Yazdani.
Perhaps wary of Yazdani gaining momentum with his nonstop pressure, Tsabolov took attacks from the outside, allowing Yazdani to stuff it with the underhook, then work the knee tap.
Tsabolov s resistance to the knee tap saw him lean away from the underhook, and Yazdani took him through for four.
Against an opponent known for his solid positioning, Yazdani used his incredible size he had just bumped up from 70 kg to push with underhooks and work Tsabolov to the edge of the mat. Tsabolov was not helpless in these positions, circling off and trying to whizzer, but Yazdani was prepared to shoot off the circles, or step across and put a boot in off the whizzer.
Yazdani s size and hip positioning were most apparent in the extended scrambles, where Yazdani was able to use elevators to get exposures when he was nearly finished.
It was a much more competitive match in reality than the score would suggest, but Yazdani wore down Tsabolov and put him away via 14-4 technical fall.
Photo by Alex Livesey Getty Images
2016 Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In pursuit of the ultimate prize, Hassan Yazdanicharati received an excellent draw in the quad s most important competition.
1 8 Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Asnage CASTELLY HAI
His first opponent, a Haitian living and training in the United States, was completely outgunned.
Yazdani dominated from the underhook with knee taps and throw-bys, mixing in the slide-by from collars.
Quarterfinal: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Soner DEMIRTAS TUR
The European champion, whose best was yet to come, Turkey s Soner Demirtas would prove more difficult to move around than Castelly.
Demirtas was stingy, largely refusing to lead on his own. He handfought hard and did his best to keep Yazdani away from the underhook.
While his A-game was limited, Yazdani had no problem working his snaps and offense thereafter to open up his tight-shelled opponent.
It was a great match to showcase the mobility and versatility of Yazdani, for those who would discredit him as a limited or one-dimensional wrestler.
Semifinal: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Galymzhan USSERBAYEV KAZ
The Kazakh Usserbayev had a different gameplan for shutting down Yazdani s best tools - he would not engage in ties whatsoever, working feverishly to clear and back away as Yazdani stalked.
The arm spin attempt suggests that Usserbayev was looking to counter when Yazdani got reckless with his pressure, but his strategy ultimately left him out of stance on the retreat and too focused on Yazdani s hands.
The Iranian was able to pick Usserbayev apart on the outside with leg attacks, nearly effortlessly.
Realizing this, Usserbayev defaulted to collar ties, where Yazdani got to his snaps and picks.
10-0, technical fall.
Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI IRI df. Aniuar GEDUEV RUS
With Olympic gold on the line, Yazdanicharati met America s most hated wrestler of the year, the Russian muscleshark Aniuar Geduev.
Geduev made headlines when he defeated Jordan Burroughs in a somewhat controversial match. A clash of heads opened up cuts on both wrestlers, and the wraps applied weren t really stopping the bleeding.
The action was constantly interrupted, and it took away Burroughs best weapon against Geduev - his pace.
The headwrap situation had not improved one bit since that match, would Yazdani suffer the same fate?
Almost immediately, Geduev demonstrated that he was prepared for the Iranian, hitting a slide-by off the collar tie of Yazdani. Shortly after, Geduev snapped hard from the collar tie, then fired off a ridiculously explosive shot to take Yazdani off his feet as he stood back into stance.
Geduev s best attacks came off the collars, and if Yazdani couldn t get his snaps going, and if Geduev somehow denied the underhooks, a huge part of his game would be gone. Down 4-0, Yazdani needed to take control, soon.
The re-wrapping breaks had already begun, Geduev was getting frequent breathers. His attacks wouldn t get any less explosive anytime soon.
Russians thrive with a lead. They threaten with potent attacks from easily accessible positions early, which causes their opponent to avoid engaging. Many top Russian competitors are happy to stay solid and hold on to that lead, only attacking again once their opponent moves vulnerably in desperation.
If Hassan Yazdanicharati decided to start playing a different game, and avoided the collar ties with Geduev, this could have been his fate. The option was even more tempting, because working snaps meant being rough with Geduev s head, which meant he may disturb the head wrap, leading to more frequent breaks.
But Yazdani met the challenge with bravery.
He stayed in the collars, he worked to snap off the shoulders and triceps, rather than the head, and cleared ties when he didn t like the position.
The pace of his handfighting clearly made Geduev uncomfortable, who shot off the break in ties. With a tight grip on the ankle, Geduev worked to rear standing and scored again.
Yazdani had made the decision to press on, and he committed.
Hanging off the arms again, Yazdani now took initiative, he used the motion of the snap down to shuck off the arms of Geduev and blasted forward on a double leg. It s one of the rare times we ve seen him take that shot from this specific range.
Geduev looked to pivot and blade his stance, leading Yazdani to the single leg. He built up, turned the corner and scored.
Threatening the same setups, Geduev shot, this time running into a crossface and giving up an easy go-behind.
The added wrapping around the head was clearly obscuring Geduev s vision, and he was starting to fade. Perhaps feeling this, Yazdani pushed his luck, attempting to force a gut wrench.
Geduev looked to turn in and hip over, but Yazdani recovered, going belly-down, then quickly turning in to reattack and get a bit on a leg once again. This began a long, hard-fought exchange. Geduev draped over the back and switched between attacking crotch-lifts and controlling the ankles, while Yazdani meticulously worked his way to a solid base from which he could turn in and face his opponent.
Geduev grabbed hold of Yazdani s ankle in turn from underneath, ultimately stalemating the position.
Still 6-4 with just over 30 seconds to go.
With Geduev far more stationary, Yazdani looked to work his underhooks, he went to his best position. Prepared for this, Geduev pivoted and whizzered hard, throwing Yazdani by. Somehow avoiding falling facefirst, Yazdani caught himself and quickly grabbed a hold of a leg, still extended.
A terrible position to be with short time, especially when you need a takedown.
I believe his length saved him this day. Even with Geduev fully sprawled, Yazdani could keep a hand clasped on the leg, long enough for him to regain stability and clasp his hands on the single in earnest. He built up his base and looked to turn the corner and finish.
Geduev staved him off by locking through the crotch for a moment, but Yazdani circled enough to collect both ankles. Although Geduev still had control of a leg, it was ruled a takedown.
6-6, as time expired. Both wrestlers had scored in 2s, and Yazdani scored last.
According to criteria, he was Olympic champion. When he returned to iran, Hassan Yazdanicharati received a hero s welcome. He was a star. Yazdani the Greatest.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Koshti Iran fitilepeach on Aug 28, 2017 at 9:38am PDT
Stay tuned for Part 2, which sees Hassan Yazdanicharati bump up to 86 kg and win his first World titles.